Science

Future soldiers may be wearing fish-inspired body armor

Future soldiers may be wearing...
Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh with a sample of the material (Photo: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)
Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh with a sample of the material (Photo: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)
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Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh with a sample of the material (Photo: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)
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Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh with a sample of the material (Photo: Technion-Israel Institute of Technology)

On most fish, their hard, overlapping scales provide considerable protection against pokes and cuts. Because those independently-moving scales are each attached to a flexible underlying skin, however, the fish are still able to easily twist and turn their bodies. Scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and MIT are now attempting to copy that structure, to develop flexible-yet-effective armor for humans.

Led by Technion's Assistant Professor Stephan Rudykh, the team has already created a composite material that consists of stiff, overlapping outer "scales," combined with a layer of soft and flexible material underneath. The addition of the scales boosts the softer material's penetration resistance by a factor of 40, while reducing its flexibility by a factor of only five.

That reduced flexibility is still an issue, although the scientists state that by tweaking the characteristics of the material, its flexibility could be increased in areas such as the knees and elbows, while the penetration resistance could be maximized in vulnerable regions such as the upper body.

Rudykh additionally suggests that via 3D printing, the characteristics of the armor could be fine-tuned for use in different scenarios. These could include not only military and policing applications, but also the protection of space-walking astronauts against micro-meteors.

This isn't the first time we've heard about scale-inspired armor. A team at Northeastern University in Boston has also developed a scales-on-a-soft-substrate material, while researchers at the University of California, San Diego are looking into replicating the hard-but-flexible scales of the Arapaima fish.

While the Technion/MIT material has already been subjected to initial penetration tests, plans call for it to next be tested against fast-moving projectiles such as bullets. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Soft Matter.

Source: American Technion Society

5 comments
Cyberxbx
I made a set of paintball armor in college that did the same thing.... scalemail is nothing new.... I used jean/epoxy resin scales stitched to an underarmor thermal layer coated with a light resin to increase toughness without reducing flexibility completely. (none in joints) This was for cold weather paintball where 1 in 10 paintballs dont burst on impact because they are too cold so you have to crank up the muzzle velocities. So... warm, breathable, flexible armor, where you don't feel more then a light thud, btw... it was camo colored.
Calson
More than half the casualties in any war have been psychiatric casualties. During World War II the rate was at 74% and that was after more than a million draftees were rejected as not being mentally fit for combat. Body armor does not protect the soldier's mind and the armor is worthless against the kind and intensity of firepower now common on battlefields much less brain trauma when a soldier steps on an IED or is in a supply truck that hits a mine. There is no longer a battle front as the enemy can take the battle anywhere and strike anywhere as with the US embassy and super fortress in Baghdad where people working there wear flack jackets when going between buildings. For the ridiculous cost of the embassy one would have thought that they would have underground tunnels but then this was the war where we were supposed to be regarded as liberators and not foreign invaders.
the.other.will
There was a flap several years ago over Dragonskin (?) body armor, which uses small plates attached to fabric. Fans said it was better than the Interceptor body armor (which uses large ceramic plates inserted into fabric) chosen by the Army. The Army insisted that IBA had comparable performance & was lighter. The controversy blew over AFAIK.
Charles S Roscoe
Chinese marines of the 12th Century invented overlapping fish scale like body armor made from layers of paper and resin. The armor stopped arrows and was buoyant, allowing them to float.